A former head coach of the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds is finally headed to Canton.
On Thursday night, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the former St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Chargers head coach Don Coryell would be posthumously inducted as part of the Class of 2023.
Best remembered as the inventor of the “Air Coryell” offence, which revolutionized the vertical passing game in the NFL, Coryell’s first college head coaching job came at UBC in 1953. A former Washington Huskies defensive back who had been coaching high school football in Hawaii, he broke a two-year winless streak for the Vancouver-based program.
Then playing against NAIA competition in the United State, Coryell went 2-16 in two seasons with the Thunderbirds. Among the players who served under him was linebacker Norm Fieldgate, who went on to be enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame after a 14-year career with the B.C. Lions.
Coryell spent time at Wenatchee Valley Junior College, Fort Ord, and Whittier College, before catching on with USC as an assistant in 1960. The next season he landed the top job with San Diego State, where he would post a 104-19-2 record over the next 12 seasons and create one of the most dominant small college programs in the country. Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs and John Madden both began their coaching careers working under Coryell with the Aztecs.
In 1973, Coryell was hired by the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals and named Associated Press Coach of the Year in his second season. The team won two conference titles during his tenure and running back Terry Metcalf set a new NFL all-purpose yardage record in 1975. Metcalf was poached by the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts in 1977, prompting his coach to go elsewhere.
The San Diego Chargers hired Coryell in 1978, setting the foundation for one of the most explosive offences in NFL history. Led by future Hall of Famers Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow and Charlie Joiner, the “Air Coryell” attack led the league in total offence five times, passing yards seven times, and scoring three times during the coach’s nine seasons at the helm. However, the group fell short of a Super Bowl, twice losing in the NFC Championship game.
In 14 NFL seasons, Coryell posted a 111-83-1 record. He was the first coach in history to record 100 wins at both the NCAA and NFL levels.
Coryell was previously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999 but was named a finalist seven times at the professional level before receiving the necessary votes. He passed away on July 1, 2010, at the age of 85.